2012 Volvo S80 Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 20, 2012

With plenty of comfort, style, and safety, the 2012 Volvo S80 hits all the right marks for an image-conscious, affluent family--but lacks the sportier driving personality of the somewhat smaller S60.

As the flagship model in Volvo's model line, the 2012 S80 showcases the Swedish-born brand's priorities of safety and technology, along with a very different notion of interior design, and wraps it all into a very comfortable luxury-sedan package.

It's been several years since the S80 has been redesigned, but even when it last was, for 2007, it looked a bit conservative. And it especially does next to the curvier, more contemporary S60 that was introduced this past year. Inside, style mavens will be more satisfied. There's a version of Volvo's 'floating' center stack—a thin panel that houses a high-end audio system, with extra storage behind. Materials are top-notch, too—up to the caliber of traditional luxury cars, with silk metal inlays and real wood veneers, but with fundamentally stark, Scandinavian. contrasts.

The 2012 Volvo S80 can be equipped with serious go-fast hardware under the hood—a 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged six in the all-wheel-drive T6—but while it can move very quickly, the S80 is never all that much fun to drive. That's mostly because of the S80's rather dull steering feel, and the sense that the S80 carries itself with a lot of heft—even if it is quite maneuverable. Go with the base straight-six and front-wheel drive, and you'll have a car that feels a little more agreeable (and nimble) if you don't need the all-weather ability. Factor in the firm but comfortable suspension settings and quiet interior, and the S80 is hands-down one of the best long-distance highway cruisers on the market.

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In addition to a reputation for safety and longevity, Volvo has earned a name for itself in recent years for having excellent seats. You simply can't do much better than the perches in the S80; they're better than those in some sport sedans costing much more, and perfect for those of a wide range of sizes, thanks to all their adjustability; and they add to the S80's long-distance appeal. Front seats also have optional heating and cooling with fan-driven ventilation, while the nicely contoured backseat is large enough for three petite folks or two American-sized adults (with enough headroom and legroom), and the climate-control system has vents built into the B-pillars for better comfort in back. Materials definitely go outside of luxury-car convention in appearance, but there's plenty to be happy with from inside; there's very little if any hard plastic up at eye level, and the leather upholstery is plush and luxurious.

This year, Volvo has kept the S80 up to snuff for its safety-focused customer base by making the brand's City Safety obstacle-alert system standard on the 2012 S80. With an available Technology Package, you can step up to a suite of radar- and camera-related active-safety features including Full Auto Brake, Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert, and a Lane Departure Warning system. Still offered in the S80 is the Personal Car Communicator, a special keyfob system that can report the security status of your vehicle remotely—including the capability to detect an intruder in your vehicle. A new Volvo Sensus screen-based system is newly standard, too, and the S80 is now sold in base, Premier Plus, and Platinum trims--with premium sound, voice-controlled navigation, and a park assist camera reserved for the top of the line. Heated rear seats, dual active xenon headlamps, and a dynamic suspension system are among the features offered in other major packages. 

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2012 Volvo S80

Styling

The exterior of the 2012 S80 is conservative, but the interior remains a showpiece of Swedish design, with its stark contrasts and rich details.

It's been several years since the S80 has been redesigned, but even when it last was, for 2007, it looked a bit conservative. And it especially does next to the curvier, more contemporary S60 that was introduced this past year.

A new grille, some chrome accents, and a more visible dual exhaust helped sharpen the S80's appearance a couple of years ago, but relative to other luxury sedans its profile and outside details are rather unremarkable.

Inside, style mavens will be more satisfied. There's a version of Volvo's 'floating' center stack—a thin panel that houses a high-end audio system, with extra storage behind. Materials are top-notch, too—up to the caliber of traditional luxury cars, with silk metal inlays, real stitched door trim, and real wood veneers, but with fundamentally stark, Scandinavian. contrasts.

Review continues below
7

2012 Volvo S80

Performance

The 2012 Volvo S80 T6 promises some excitement; but for all the S80 models, competence is a more apt way to describe the driving experience.

The 2012 Volvo S80 doesn't quite have the racy looks of the brand's new S60 sport sedan, but it definitely can be equipped with serious go-fast hardware under the hood—a 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbocharged six in the all-wheel-drive T6.

But while it can move very quickly, the S80 is never all that much fun to drive. That's mostly because of the S80's rather dull steering feel, and the sense that the S80 carries itself with a lot of heft—even if it is quite maneuverable. T6 versions also include an active suspension system that continually adjusts the S80's shocks from Comfort, Sport, and Advanced to fit varied types of driving; it can also tie in with the variable-assist power steering, which ranges from light to firm. That all-wheel drive system in the S80 can send up to 50 percent to the rear wheels when needed, but it's definitely not a car that encourages you to push harder. 

Go with the base, 240-hp straight-six and front-wheel drive, and you'll actually have a car that feels a little more agreeable (and nimble and economical).

Actually, the S80, from our experience, seems to specialize in a different kind of performance: the open road. Factor in the firm but comfortable suspension settings, quiet interior, and superb seats--along with good passing power and almost effortless tracking--and the S80 is hands-down one of the best long-distance highway cruisers on the market.

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9

2012 Volvo S80

Comfort & Quality

The interior of the 2012 Volvo S80 has a combination of comfort, spaciousness, and refinement that make this sedan a great long-distance hauler.

In addition to a reputation for safety and longevity, Volvo has earned a name for itself in recent years for having excellent seats. You simply can't do much better than the perches in the S80; they're better than those in some sport sedans costing much more, and perfect for those of a wide range of sizes, thanks to all their adjustability; and they add to the S80's long-distance appeal.

Front seats also have optional heating and cooling with fan-driven ventilation, while the nicely contoured backseat is large enough for three petite folks or two American-sized adults (with enough headroom and legroom), and the climate-control system has vents built into the B-pillars for better comfort in back. The trunk is one of the smallest in this class, at just under 15 cubic feet, but it can be expanded by flipping forward the 60/40-split seatbacks.

Materials definitely go outside of luxury-car convention in appearance--but there's plenty to be happy with from inside; there's very little if any hard plastic up at eye level, and the leather upholstery is plush and luxurious.

The S80 rides neither as harshly and firmly as a sport sedan nor as softly as a comfort-oriented luxury sedan; most will probably appreciate how it feels comfortable enough, yet still relatively crisp and controllable.

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2012 Volvo S80

Safety

The 2012 S80, as Volvo's technology flagship, is likely one of the safest sedans at any price, with an excellent combination of traditional occupant protection and modern accident-avoidance extras.

Volvo is legendary for top-notch safety, so as the largest sedan in the brand's lineup--and it's technology flagship--the S80 isn't at all sparing on passive or active protection.

This year, Volvo has kept the S80 up to snuff for its safety-focused customer base by making the brand's City Safety obstacle-alert system standard. With an available Technology Package, you can step up to a suite of radar- and camera-related active-safety features including Full Auto Brake, Adaptive Cruise Control, Distance Alert, and a Lane Departure Warning system. Additionally, the optional Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) includes warning lights mounted on the front pillars, to alert the driver if there's another vehicle in the blind spot.

Still offered in the S80 is the Personal Car Communicator, a special keyfob system that can report the security status of your vehicle remotely—including the capability to detect an intruder in your vehicle.

Front, side, and curtain airbags, as well as anti-lock brakes and stability control, are standard.

The federal government hasn't tested the S80 as part of its revised NCAP ratings system, but we'd feel confident based on the impressive ratings the S80 has already earned. The 2012 S80 once again gets gets top 'good' ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in frontal, side, and rear impact, and a 'good' rating in the new roof strength test, which gauges protection in the even of a rollover. And that earns it a place on the IIHS Top Safety Pick list.

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9

2012 Volvo S80

Features

To complement this sedan's already rich traditional luxury feature set, the 2012 S80 offers plenty of tech-option possibilities.

For 2012, Volvo has reconfigured its S80 model line into three trims: base, Premier Plus, and Platinum.

Standard feature content is better than ever, even on the base model, which includes things like fog lamps, heated outside mirrors, cruise, dual-zone climate control, power front seats, Bluetooth, and Sirius Satellite Radio. Premier Plus models add just a few more extras, like a garage-door opener, while it's Platinum models that pile on the luxury and tech, with premium sound (650-watt), iPod/USB inputs, HD Radio, navigation with real-time traffic, rear park assist, dual xenon HID headlamps with Active Bending Light are now a standalone option. A new Volvo Sensus screen-based system is newly standard, too, across the model line.

Heated rear seats, dual active xenon headlamps, and a dynamic suspension system are among the features offered in other major packages--Climate (heated front and rear seats, heated headlamp washers, rain-sensor wipers), Inscription (leather, ventilated seats, walnut trim), and Technology (adaptive cruise, collision warning with Full Auto Brake, Distance Alert, Driver Alert Control, and Lane Departure Warning). A power sunroof remains on offer as a $1,000 standalone option, while dual-xenon HID lamps are an $800 option.

Volvo's DVD-driven nav system still feels a bit outdated, and isn't the easiest to use. Some might find the cabin interface in general a little confusing at first; there's a somewhat confusing panel of small buttons on the dash, but most minor changes can be made through the menu system and a steering-wheel toggle.

Still included with Premier Plus and Platinum models of the S80 is the Personal Car Communicator, a special keyfob system that can detect intruders in the vehicle and report the security status of your vehicle remotely.

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6

2012 Volvo S80

Fuel Economy

If you make good use of the S80's ample interior space and comfort and skip the all-wheel drive, it's a reasonably efficient pick.

The 2012 Volvo S80 can be reasonably green--if you choose the right model. The all-wheel drive version of the S80 hits pretty hard--2 mpg in the city, and 3 mpg on the highway, because of the additional weight and drag even when you don't need the system.

But with the six-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive, the S80 can be a modestly green pick--if you plan to use its capacity for carrying adults. Volvo has for this year managed to boost its ratings for the front-wheel-drive S80, by 1 mpg in the city and 2 on the highway, to 20 mpg city, 29 highway, and that's now impressive for such a large sedan.

Although we haven't driven an S80 in some time, in the past we've seen numbers toward the low end of the range, in mixed driving. At more than 4,000 pounds, it's quite heavy, and that likely has something to do with it.

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